March 30, 2005 -- The thrill of victory can quickly turn to violence, says a new study.
Most sports fans don't get out of control. They'll root hard for their team but take wins and losses in stride. You'll likely see that this weekend, when die-hard college basketball fans paint their faces and scream their lungs out at the men's and women's NCAA Final Four basketball championships.
Like many sports events, that will probably be intense, but peaceful. But at some other competitions, a few fans may get carried away, and before you know it, someone's headed to the emergency room.
What sets off sports fan violence? Is it a bad call that costs the team a game? A heated exchange between players? Trash talk from the stands?
Perhaps not. What really gets fans riled up is winning, not losing, says the new study.
When Winners Act Like Losers
Ground zero for the study was the Welsh town of Cardiff. It's the capital and the biggest city in Wales, and rugby and soccer rule the sports scene there. The fan base is so strong that matches often draw a Super Bowl-sized crowd of 70,000 fans -- in a town of only 300,000 people.
The researchers focused on injury assaults seen in Cardiff's only emergency room. Talk about a prime location; the emergency room is one mile from the national stadium in the city's center.
Then, the researchers checked what was going on at the time. They noted game schedules, wins, and losses for rugby and soccer.
Whenever the Welsh national teams won, the emergency room saw more assault injuries. It didn't matter if the game was played in Cardiff or on the road; the trend stayed true.
You might think that fans would be happy when their team won. So happy, in fact, that they're a little kinder and gentler than normal.
Think again. "Assault may not be the result of negative factors associated with a national team losing but the result of a positive event (winning)," write the researchers.
"It is possible that levels of self-confidence, assertiveness, or patriotism which may be heightened following a win are important factors," they write.
Mix in alcohol and crowds, and you've got a recipe for sports fan violence. Domestic violence has also been found to increase when the male assailant's team wins, say the researchers.
City officials, doctors, and police should prepare accordingly for sports fan violence, they recommend. The report appears in the March issue of Injury Prevention.